No no no no no Yes

Daily Office readings for June 30:

Psalm 118

Psalm 145

1 Samuel 10:1-16

Romans 4:13-25

Matthew 21:23-32

Folks who know me pretty well like to give me a hard time at the number of things I’ve changed my mind and agreed to do, when my initial response was often a vociferous “Hell, no!” I caught one of my friends a while back letting someone in on the secret. “Oh, she always says “no” at first, and it’s usually in a way designed to scare you off…but don’t let her. Once she’s convinced it’s the right thing to do, she’ll come around.”

Our first son in today’s parable was probably that way, too (and truthfully, I suspect Matthew is soft-pedaling his response with “I will not.”) Son #1 probably said “Hell, no,” too–or worse.

I can identify with Son #2, also. I think of all the times I have wanted to be “good,” to do things in that cheerful, obedient way…but the task begins to be difficult and I feel all alone at doing it, and after a while, if it appears no one really cares any more, it (and my involvement in it) just sort of dies off. I had good intentions, but they just more or less pooped out over time.

Jesus is using this parable to explain the blindness of the chief priests and elders to what was going around them, but what’s interesting to me is what’s unspoken. It’s not required to interpret this parable solely as an either/or thing, letting the story end with one son being the “good” son and his sibling the “bad” one. We are also free to think of the possible ways that both sons, ultimately, could have obeyed the will of the father. We’re free to think about this parable beyond the intended recipients at that time, at the time it was told.

Our human brains tend to dualize the things we ponder and struggle with to find the right path. When we hear this story, we tend to identify with the son that we are most like. There are many risks in our hearing of this story. If we only think about those bad old priests and elders, the story is about someone else and not us, and puts us at risk for feeling smug. If we identify with the first son, we are at rick for feeling complacent about our mistakes. If we identify with the 2nd son, we risk making excuses for ourselves and our good intentions.

The deeper meaning, I believe, is about the process of being humbly open to what God might have in store for us, and accepting that people we may view as less intelligent, less similar to us, and–dare I say it?–less “worthy”–may well be just as good or better at following God’s call than we are.

So in that vein, I keep wondering, “How many more of the father’s wishes in that story would have been accomplished, if both the sons had been able to work together rather than separately?”

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

Past Posts